How Not To Die In Australia
A look at the animals you need to avoid if you wish to stay alive.
“I could never go to Australia …” said a friend when I was planning my trip, “….all those snakes and spiders.” I’m not sure what she’d been watching — maybe Arachnophobia or Snakes On a Plane, neither of which, as far as I am aware, were set in Australia. Yet that is the perception many people have and to some extent, the myth that Australians themselves like to perpetuate about their country. So I have decided to tiptoe carefully through the bush to expose the wildlife dangers on this remote continent and explore a recently prepared report which analyses the hospital admissions and fatalities resulting from animals coming into contact with humans.
You certainly have to keep your eye out for spiders. The Huntsman is a big Mutha of a spider which looks as though it would eat your children. It’s not venemous to humans and rarely bites but even the big tough Australian men shit themselves when they see one. If they should appear in the house then I am afraid to say, the chances are they end up in the vacuum cleaner.
I haven’t encountered one so far this trip (touch wood) but it doesn’t stop me from checking under the sun visor every time I get into the car which is another place they like to hide as they know that’s somewhere folks don’t take their Dyson. Every Australian will have their favourite “huntsman in a car” story. I remember several years ago, Schmotty and I were driving somewhere. Five minutes into our journey, as we motored along, I looked past her and screamed which made her turn her head and do the same. Sitting on the driver’s window was a huge huntsman which, when we had peeled ourselves down from the roof, we thankfully realised was on the outside of the glass. There are other stories however, of people looking in their rear view mirror to see a huntsman who had crawled from its refuge underneath the sun visor and was making its way across their head.
Spiders are also famous for lurking around the toilet bowl. This proved unlucky for one tradesman in Sydney recently when using a Portaloo as he was bitten on his pecker for the second time in five months. This spider was venemous and the man required hospital treatment. Thankfully antivenom exists for most spider bites and the last fatality was back in 1999.
If spiders can’t kill you then you would think that one of the 100 species of scorpion in the country would, but alas none have fatal venom and merely cause a painful irritation.
Bees, wasps and hornets are still a problem and there have been 27 recorded deaths in that 13 year period though most injuries are caused by anaphylactic shock rather than the venom itself. Small comfort, no doubt, to those particular individuals who are now six feet under. And there have been 5,000 hospitalisations and 5 deaths from marauding ants and ticks so you should never underestimate the little guy.
Snakes are pretty scary things and Australia has a cornucopia of “deadly” specimens. Whilst you’re unlikely to encounter one walking down Bourke Street, they might slither around the outskirts of towns and cities so it’s always best to watch where you tread through unkempt grass.
But again, there’s anti-venom so as long as you have a mobile phone on you, are within an area with phone coverage and within reach of an ambulance, you’ll live to tell the tale.
Although there’s an average of 500 hospital admissions per year, statistically there’s only a couple of deaths and that’s probably due to the victims using up their phone battery by sending constant status updates to Facebook.
Apart from the native species, you get the odd escapee (see left), which authorities believe was illegally bred here or brought in as a baby.
There are two types of crocodiles in this land. Freshwater crocs are smallish with long thin mouths and are relatively cuddly as they prefer fish and insects to human meat. However, their saltwater counterparts are always on the lookout for a human handbag. Salties can grow to be as long and fast as your average milk float. They live in the northern half of Australia and despite their name, do not restrict themselves to the coast (where they demand the best sun loungers) but can also be found in fresh water river systems. A man was killed in Northern Territory in January when he tried to walk through a river, known to be frequented by crocodiles. So watch yourself when you’re near the water. The advice is to be very wary of the croc that you can see but even more wary of the one you can’t. Apparently there’s still only an average of 1½ deaths per year though.
There are plenty of eagles, falcons and hawks in Australia but by far the most dangerous to humans is the Magpie. I noticed in Queensland that most cyclists wear cycle helmets with plastic spikes on them. This is to deter magpies whose pastime is to swoop down on cyclists, runners and pedestrians and start pecking away. There’s even a dedicated website (I kid you not) where you can record your encounter. www.magpiealert.com Check it out.
Life savers on Australian beaches are not just there to stop you from drowning. They keep their eyes out for sharks. These creatures occasionally wander into shallow waters on the lookout for paddlers but their favourite food are surfers. They snoop around the surf looking for dangling limbs to attach themselves to. There are an average of 2 fatalities per year so it’s statistically worth taking the risk and hoping that the shark moves on to your neighbour swimming a couple of waves down.
In the sea, you’re a lot more prone to getting nipped by a jellyfish. People were recently treated for 23,000 jellyfish stings in Queensland alone over a 2 month period. A certain type of box jellyfish can be fatal but again only 3 cases were recorded in a 13 year period.
By now you’re probably thinking that in order for you to survive an Australian holiday, you need to stick to the pavement, keep out of cars, rivers and the sea and wear helmets, goggles and wellies but according to the survey, you’re more likely to get killed by a horse in Australia (being thrown from or trampled by) than all of the above put together.
Unless of course, you get attacked by a snake on the flight over.